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Henry George
by [?]

* * * * *

Henry George was that rare, peculiar and strange thing–an honest man. Whether he had genius or not we can not say, since genius has never been defined twice alike, nor put in the alembic and resolved into its constituent parts. All accounts go to show that from very childhood Henry George was singularly direct and true. His ancestry was Welsh, Scotch and English in about equal proportions, and the traits of the middle class were his, even to a theological sturdiness that robbed his mind of most of its humor. Reformers must needs be color-blind, otherwise they would never get their work done–they see red or purple and nothing else. Born in Philadelphia in Eighteen Hundred Thirty- nine, on Tenth Street, below Pine, in a house still standing, and which should be marked with a bronze plate, but is not, Henry George took on a good many of the moral traits of his Quaker neighbors. His father was a clerk in the Custom-House, having graduated from a position as sea-captain on account of an excess of caution and a taste for penmanship. Later the good man went into the publishing business, backed by the Episcopal Church, and issued Sunday-School leaflets, sermons and prayer-books. In fact, he became the official printer of the denomination. With him was a man named Appleton, who finally went over to New York and started in on his own account, founding the firm of D. Appleton and Company, which forty years thereafter was to publish to the world a book called, “Progress and Poverty.”

The worthy father of Henry George was a good Churchman, but not a businessman. He bought the things he ought not, and left unsold the things he should have worked off. He didn’t know the value of time. Other people did things while he was getting ready to commence to begin.

And so the whirligig of time sent him back to his desk at the Custom- House, on a salary so modest that it meant poverty, and progress crab- fashion.

The children old enough to work got jobs, and Henry of the red hair and freckles found a place as printer’s devil at two dollars a week. College was out of the question, and Girard Institute was regarded as infidelic. However, episcopacy did not have quite so strong a hold on this household as it once had. The Georges believed in freedom and took William Lloyd Garrison’s paper, “The Liberator,” and the mother read it aloud by the light of a penny dip. Next came “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and when, in Eighteen Hundred Fifty-six, the Republican Party was born, the George family, father, mother and children, all had pronounced views on the subject of human rights–very different views from those held by the royal Georges of England. When Henry George was sixteen, the restlessness of coming manhood found expression, and he shipped before the mast and sailed away to the Antipodes. The boy had the small, compact form, the physical activity and the daring which make a first-class sailor, but happily his brain was too full of ideas to transform him into a dog of the sea.

A trip to Australia, with salt pork all the time, sea-biscuit every day, lobscouse on Sundays, plum-duff once a month, and a total absence of mental stimulus, cured him of the idea that freedom was to be found on the bounding wave and the rolling deep.

At seventeen he was back at the case, setting type and getting a man’s pay because he was able to “rastle the dic.,” which means that he was on familiar terms with the dictionary and could correct proof.

Education is a matter of desire, and the printer’s case with bad copy to revise is better than “English Twenty-two” at Harvard. Henry George moused nights at the Quaker Apprentices’ Library, and he also read Franklin’s “Autobiography”; his mind was full of Poor Richard maxims, which he sprinkled through his diary; but best of all, with seven other printers he formed another “Junta,” and they met twice a week to discuss “poetry, economics and Mormonism.” It was very sophomoric, of course, but boys of eighteen who study anything and defend it in essays and orations are right out on the highway which leads to superiority. The trouble with the ‘prentice is that he does not know how to spend his evenings; the love of leisure and the wish for a good time cause the moments to slip past him, out of his reach forever, out into the great ocean of time.